A new crime fighting partnership is hitting the fields and farms of rural Oxfordshire.

The Rural Crime Partnership is bringing together Thames Valley Police, West Oxfordshire, South Oxfordshire, Vale of the White Horse District Councils and the Community Safety Partnerships to tackle crimes such as fly-tipping, burglaries and theft in rural areas. 

There will also be more support for local communities on crime prevention as well an increase in the gathering and sharing of information about rural crime. 

Rural crime is defined as offences that relate to farms, equine canters, agriculture, wildlife, the environment and heritage sites, where they are targeted due to their isolation or rural location.

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Rural crime affects victims’ livelihoods, physical and mental wellbeing and that of the wider community.

In 2023 the National Farmers’ Union reported a 22 per cent increase in the value of rural crime with costs reaching a total estimate of £49.5 million across the UK.

The project has been made possible thanks to £156,000 funding the partnership secured from the Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley and the Home Office’s Safer Streets initiative.

Safer Streets is a Home Office Initiative aimed at preventing neighbourhood crime, tackling anti-social behaviour and violence against women.  The Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner, working with district councils, successfully bid for funding to support interventions in rural crime across West Oxfordshire, South Oxfordshire and the Vale of the White Horse.

Initiatives include new covert cameras to be used by the Police’s Rural Crime Taskforce alongside off-road bikes to target criminals in hard-to-reach areas.

Officers will work with farmers to improve security. Farms will be eligible to sign up for security checks and will be given DNA marking kits for agricultural machinery. 

These kits include property marking labels to deter theft, and where theft happens enable machinery to be tracked back to the farm.

A new Rural Crime Advisor will work to promote rural crime prevention and engage with rural communities, industries, farms and organisations such as Young Farmers and the National Farmers’ Union, to help them become harder to target for criminals.

New surveillance equipment will help district councils catch fly-tippers and tackle hot spot areas.

Project lead, Deputy LPA Commander for South and Vale, Chief Inspector Rachel Patterson said: “I am delighted that we have been given access to this funding which will help us tackle rural crime across the area.

“Rural crime really affects our communities, and we hope that with the close link to farms that the Rural Crime Advisor will have, along with DNA marker kits, we can send a clear message that Thames Valley is a hostile environment for rural criminals, and we are committed to supporting our rural communities.”

The key component in the kit is a solution filled with unique microscopic DNA markers.  The solution is smeared onto property in several locations and then the property is registered for that DNA profile on a central database. 

Property is physically marked to show potential thieves that the property is protected.   If property is stolen and recovered by the police, it can be scanned to find the DNA markers and the rightful owners.

West Oxfordshire District Councillor, Councillor Geoff Saul, Executive Member for Housing and Social Welfare said: “By working together, we can make a difference in protecting our farms, homes, and natural landscape from rural crime. 

"As a council we know only too well that fly-tipping creates an environmental problem that blights rural communities, and I welcome the funding to help to tackle this anti-social crime.”

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Cllr Helen Pighills, Cabinet Member for Community Health and Wellbeing at Vale of White Horse District Council, added: “This new partnership is a significant step forward in tackling rural crime in Oxfordshire. With increased resources and a focus on both prevention and enforcement, we can make our rural communities that much safer and provide greater peace of mind for those living and working there."

Cllr Georgina Heritage, Cabinet Member for Communities at South Oxfordshire District Council, said: "Rural crime can have a very serious impact, particularly for farmers who have to replace stolen equipment or pay to have fly-tipped rubbish removed from their land.   By having more surveillance and increased support for local crime prevention we hope to reduce the problem and catch those involved."

Matthew Barber, Police and Crime Commissioner for the Thames Valley, said: “I am pleased to have secured over £150,000 from the Home Office’s Safer Streets Fund to help tackle rural crime.

“Rural crime can have a significant impact on victims and can leave our most isolated communities feeling particularly vulnerable but the creation of the new Rural Crime Partnership, facilitating collaborative working between Thames Valley Police and local councils, will increase the confidence and security of farms and rural industries across West Oxfordshire, South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse and make them a harder target for criminals.”